New Zealand is not as fair as it used to be: Wealth inequality

post by Gracey 

One of the reasons I want to be a social worker is because I want New Zealand to be a fairer society. New Zealand is not the equal society it once was. There are families who are trying to make a living out of minimum wage, people without homes sitting on the streets we pass and children living in poverty. These kinds of issues are the ones I want to tackle because it highlights that New Zealand’s current system desperately needs to change.

In 1953, New Zealand’s society had a large working class with little or no unemployed people, a reasonably large middle class and a small upper class. The more money you earned, the more tax you had to pay. Today there are more unemployed people and a large group of working people who struggle to make ends meet and are supported by benefits paid by the middle class while profits from things like rent go to the wealthiest 10%. The ideas of neoliberalism had a key role in changing the structure of our society as the government let loose its reigns on the economy (Hyslop, 2018; O’Brien, 2013).

The economy was given greater freedom at the cost of having equality in opportunity, common ownership and a fairer society. Neoliberal economic theory promised greater distribution of wealth by lowering the tax for the wealthiest in society as an investment for the wealth to trickle down. This has not happened and the top 10% owns over half of the wealth while the bottom 10% own nothing at all.  See for example ‘Mind the gap‘. Not only has neoliberal economic theory affected the distribution of wealth in New Zealand, it has impacted the attitudes we have on some groups of society such as people receiving benefits.

Some people who are unaware of our broken system are quick to blame those dependent on benefits to get by. Drawing a line between those who are dependent on benefits and those who pay their tax has pushed people receiving benefits to the sidelines of society. I want to be a social worker who helps make a fairer society where everyone has a sense of belonging to the community. The people who are receiving benefits should not be the ones blamed for the situation they are in but the economic policies in place where the benefits have not increased since 1991. People who receive benefits are not lazy people who would rather be on a benefit than work. Most people on the benefit want to work but cannot work too much or else their benefit is cut. Neoliberalism has impacted society to be more individualised and encouraged competition rather than cooperation. We can change that attitude by changing the policies we have in place around the welfare system and wealth distribution.

I believe New Zealand can be a fairer society through systemic changes. The system we have now is out-of-date, filled with holes and needs to be rejuvenated. The benefit rates have not changed since 1991 and should be increased. There should be a living wage rather than a minimum wage and benefit rates should not fall below some set percentage of average earnings. There are many ways to make New Zealand a fairer society and I want to see policies that build New Zealand’s sense of community rather than tear it apart.



Bruce, B. (2013). Mind the Gap [DVD]. New Zealand: Red Sky Film & TV Ltd. Retrieved from

Hyslop, I. (2018). Neoliberalism and social work identity. European Journal of Social Work, 21(1), 20-31.

O’Brien, M. (2013). A better welfare system. In Rashbrooke, M (Ed.), Inequality: A New Zealand crisis (pp. 213-227). Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books.





Author: socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand

One thought on “New Zealand is not as fair as it used to be: Wealth inequality”

  1. I totally agree with the issues you have raised in your blog. I too believe our wages need to increase. Minimum wage is much too low especially given the cost of living in New Zealand. The politics of oppression is very ugly and so many people buy into the rhetoric of blame and ‘othering’ spouted by those in power.

    Liked by 1 person

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